There’s nothing quite like a day spent in the sun with friends and family.
But if you’re looking for that golden tan, how much sun is the right amount? And what protection should you be wearing to avoid suffering from the effects of excess sun exposure?
What to expect from this guide
In this article, we’ll answer all of your burning questions about sunscreen and what level of protection you should be using. You’ll learn:
- What SPF is
- Why SPF matters
- What level of SPF you need to stay safe in the sun
- And other sunscreen facts to help you enjoy the outdoors with the right type of sunscreen
Let’s get started.
What exactly is SPF?
SPF is a commonly-used acronym that stands for Sun Protection Factor.
It first started being talked about in the 1960s, and nowadays pretty much every sunscreen you see has an SPF level on its packaging.
SPF measures the amount of solar energy (UV radiation) that’s required to produce a sunburn on protected skin.
In some places, SPF levels are split into the following categories:
- Below SPF 15 - Low Protection
- Between 15 and 29 SPF - Medium Protection
- Between 30 and 49 SPF - High Protection
- Above 50 SPF - Very High Protection
Why does SPF matter?
SPF ratings matter because they give you an indication of how much protection a sun cream will offer you.
It’s a common misconception that SPF ratings are directly related to the amount of time that you can spend in the sun with that type of sunscreen.
For example, many people think that if they would get a sunburn after 30 minutes without sunscreen, by putting on an SPF 15, that increases their safe outdoor time by a factor of 15.
But that’s not actually the case. Because there are many factors (such as sun intensity and skin type) that determine how much solar energy your body is hit with when you spend time outdoors, you can’t use SPF to provide an exact calculation of the time you can safely spend in the sun.
This means that the best way for a consumer to use SPF ratings is as a relative measurement that allows them to make comparisons between sun care products.
For example, you can safely assume that a product containing SPF 50 offers more protection than one with SPF 15. However, what that means for your exact situation will depend on some of the factors that we’ll dive into below.
What level of SPF do I need to stay safe in the sun?
Everybody is different when it comes to SPF protection – the amount that you need may not be the amount that your friends need to stay safe in the sun.
That’s why it’s important to think about each of the following considerations while choosing a sun care product for your next outing.
SPF and skin type
As a general rule of thumb, people with fairer skin are more susceptible to damage from the sun. That’s because of a group of molecules called melanin.
Melanin exists naturally in the skin and helps to block out UV rays – up to a point. People with darker skin naturally have more melanin so also have more natural protection from the sun’s rays.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t need sunscreen if you’ve got a tan or dark skin, but it does mean that your SPF needs may not be as high as they are for your friend with fair skin.
So if your skin is very light, you may want to look for a sun cream with a higher SPF level. If your skin is darker, you may be able to get away with using sunscreen with a lower SPF level.
SPF, time, season, and location
Your SPF requirements will also vary based on the time of day, season, weather conditions, and location.
The time of day matters when it comes to SPF because it influences the intensity of the solar energy coming from the sun. For example, an hour of the sun at 9:00 AM may have the same impact on your skin as 15 minutes of the sun at 1:00 PM.
The season can have a similar impact on the amount of SPF you need to stay safe. During the summer, the sun sits at an angle that makes its rays more intense and potentially more damaging to your skin.
Additionally, the sun’s rays are strongest near the equator, so you may need a higher SPF level if you’re lucky enough to be on a tropical vacation!
SPF and tanning goals
Sunscreen indeed limits the effectiveness of tanning. However, it’s important to note that it doesn’t block out the sun's rays entirely.
This means that it is still possible to tan while protecting your skin by wearing sunscreen.
No matter what your tanning goals are, it’s important to opt for a sunscreen that still provides you with a level of SPF that will keep you safe above all else.
That being said, there are a wide range of excellent products out there that can help you get more out of your tanning regime.
For example, Australian Gold’s Moisture Lock Tan Extender is designed to lock in your color for longer while also hydrating the skin. That way, you won’t be waving goodbye to your tan shortly after working so hard on it.
Is SPF 15 enough for sun protection?
With all of that in mind, you may still be wondering whether SPF 15 is enough protection for you.
The answer is that it really does depend.
You need to consider all of the factors covered in the previous section to decide what level of SPF protection you need, as this can vary widely from person to person – there’s no one size fits all solution to sun care!
Keep in mind that even your own needs can vary from day to day. For example, you’re going to need more SPF protection for a summer day at the beach than you would for a normal workday.
If you really want to make sure that SPF 15 is enough for you, then consider consulting with a dermatologist. They can consider all of the unique factors that make up your situation and will tell you exactly how much SPF you need in various situations.
What level of SPF is best for tanning?
Regardless of your tanning goals, it’s important to l always strive to select a sun care product with an SPF level that’s high enough to keep your skin protected from the sun’s rays.
For most people, that means wearing an SPF 30 product. Dermatologists recommend this SPF level for everyday use because it blocks out about 97% of the sun’s UVB rays.
Can I still tan while wearing sunscreen?
You can absolutely still get a tan while wearing sunscreen. You just won’t be able to tan as efficiently as you would if you weren’t wearing any suncare products.
That’s because these products are designed to block the sun’s rays from damaging your skin. But the tanning process relies on those same rays to darken your skin.
The reason that you can still get tan while wearing sunscreen is that sunscreen doesn’t block out 100% of the sun’s rays. So, although it may take longer to reach your tanning goals, you can still hit them while keeping yourself safe from short and long-term sun-related damage – and that’s a win.
Is it the higher the better when it comes to SPF?
It’s better to choose a higher SPF over a lower one in most circumstances. That’s because the more SPF you have, the more protection from the sun that you have as well.
So when you choose a sunscreen with more SPF, you don’t have to worry as much about constantly reapplying it because each application will last longer.
But that’s only true up to a certain point. When you start getting above 50 SPF, the protection that these products offer against UVA rays actually tends to go down.
So even though 50+ SPF products may provide more protection against UVB rays, you may not be safer overall when you use them.
That being said, most people will never need any sun care products with more than 50 SPF. So as a general rule of thumb, you can follow the advice that more is better when it comes to SPF protection in skincare products.
Australian Gold has a product for every suncare need
No matter what SPF level you decide is right for you, Australian Gold has you covered. We’re an internationally-trusted skincare brand that sells a wide variety of products to enhance your safe enjoyment of the sun.